Ambassador Baker Receives ACCJ "Person of the Year" Award

Ambassador Howard H. Baker, Jr.
American Chamber of Commerce Japan
Person of the Year 2004 Luncheon

January 27, 2005

AMBASSADOR BAKER: Debbie Howard, ladies and gentlemen, what a pleasure it is to be here. My wife and I have spent almost four years here now and I can honestly say that our time in Japan ranks among the very highest honors and privileges that we have enjoyed. Debbie is right. The relationship between Japan and the United States is unique. It's extraordinary when you stop and consider that while we are best friends, perhaps better friends that any other two major powers in the world, it's such an unlikely prospect. We come from different cultures, we speak a different language, we are separated by the Pacific Ocean and recently fought a great war in the Pacific. So, how can it be that Japan and the United States are so close? I leave that to you and academicians to figure out; suffice it for me to say that I observe that we are.

It may be that one of the reasons is because we both have - Japanese and Americans have - an instinct for self-government. We are both efficient, effective, practicing democracies. We are both not only willing to, but will have demonstrated our ability to, hear what our countries have to say and to translate it into useful public policy. There aren't many large powers like Japan and the United States that can boast that. And it may not be the only reason, or perhaps the prime reasons, why the United States and Japan are so close. But my friends, I believe it is a significant reason.

Another reason, perhaps, is that whether we state it very well or not, I think instinctively Americans and Japanese understand that we have a special responsibility to preserve and extend the stability of the Asia Pacific region. And to do that, we must rely, not only on our understanding the situation, but also our economic and military advantage.

I met just before I came here with the Governor of Okinawa. Some of you may know that the Governor and I have had disagreements from time to time and even harsh words on occasion. But I must tell you he is a genuine patriot. He has been an excellent governor and I count him my friend. But in the course of our conversation this morning, I had the opportunity to say that our differences are not as profound as our similarities between Japan and the United States. And that Okinawa is a special part of Japan. And America realizes and acknowledges that we have placed a special burden on the people of that region. As our President has said, and Secretary of Defense had said, we acknowledge that and we wish to reduce that burden. Indeed, I believe we will succeed in that. The final culmination of the effort will come after I leave Japan, but I will count it as a great privilege to have had a great opportunity to participate in the address of the problem.

Some time ago, I tasked my senior staff at the embassy, which by the way, is an extraordinary group, to give some thought and to write a short paper on what they think America will be like and Japan will be like in 10 years. Nobody has the real ability to look in the crystal ball and predict that. But it's useful, I think, to think about it.

Beginning first with America - I've already remarked that we have an efficient, functioning democratic system - and we do. It is convulsive sometimes - unpleasant sometimes - but in the final analysis, it works and works well. America has a dynamic economy, and almost surely that will continue and be elaborated and extended and improved as time goes by. In a word, I really am optimistic about the future of my country. While we are thought of as a superpower now, I think there is much room to build on that and become even more conscious of our role and responsibility in the world.

And Japan. Japan has many problems, but Japan approaches those problems in a unique, special and intelligent way - also the product of an efficient, effective democratic system. Japan has a tradition of strong leaders. Many of them have been, really, little short of historic figures - none perhaps any stronger than your present Prime Minister Koizumi. He is a unique man. I had the opportunity recently - very recently, my wife and I had dinner with him last night, in the nature of a farewell party, a farewell dinner - but I had the opportunity to observe then, and will share with you that I really think the "Koizumi magic" is based in large measure on his ability to formulate his plans and ideas, and to advance them in the political system without fear. He pointed out that his approval rating in the polls has gone down recently, but I observed to him that the real test of leadership is the ability of a leader to identify problems and opportunities, to act on them notwithstanding what the polls may say - in a word, to lead instead of respond. And I think the prime minister does that extraordinarily well.

Also, my vision of the crystal ball of what Japan will be like: my friends, Japan is already a superpower. Japan does not fully realize it is a superpower, I think, but it is. You have the second-largest economy in the world and by the way, the United States economy and the Japanese economy together represent more than 50 percent of the gross national product of the world, and that too creates responsibilities as well as opportunities. Japan is a superpower, but with that goes special responsibilities of a superpower - not only to maintain peace and tranquility in their own country, but to realize that there are obligations that extend to the region, perhaps to the world. I think Japan is addressing those issues very well. And Koizumi is doing it particularly well.

Japan is a great scientific nation, and you are presently engaged in the competition to build the ITER project in Japan (International Fusion Reactor Project). It will be very expensive, but it will also be extraordinarily helpful, assuming that it works as planned. It's a logical place to be, here in Japan. Our French friends are competing very heavily for it. I am for Japan. My country is for Japan - not just because we are allies and friends, but because Japan is unique in its ability to advance the cause of science and technology. You are a science superpower as well. There is no more fitting place for the world's next big physics machine than here in Japan.

Without prolonging this unduly, Japan is great in terms of basic science. I'm sure many of you know that you have the two largest vector computers in the world, that you have the two largest telescopes in the world, the Subaru telescopes, which are located on Mona Kea in Hawaii, but they're Japanese telescopes. And you are standing on the brink - Japan stands on the brink of being able to realize all the products of that research and development, and it's my hope that Japan and the United States will do it together.

I could go on with these elaborations, but I have something else I want to say - perhaps closer to home. I have a great admiration for the ACCJ. Most of you here in the room recall, I'm sure, that I've made it a habit of meeting with the board of the ACCJ once a month, and that's more than a show of friendship. And it's more than trying to be helpful to the ACCJ and its members, although that's part of it. But mostly it's because ACCJ, with your breadth of experience and your wise knowledge of the business community here in Japan, have given me a window on what really happens here - what the dynamics are, what the challenges are, what the opportunities are, and I congratulate you for that. You, too, are an efficient organization. You, too, are well led. You, too, have great potential and promise for the future. You should be proud of what you've done so far, and you should be willing to accept the challenge of the future.

My friends, Nancy and I are going back to America very shortly, and when we return, I will think back on my experience here and, as I said earlier, I will count it as one of the great experiences of my life, but I will not forget. I will not lose my interest in Japan --whether that's a promise or a threat, it depends on your perception - but I will continue to observe and to analyze what happens in the world, especially as it affects Japan and the United States. I will do it in whatever ways present themselves, but in our four years here, I have been captured by Japan in many ways, and I don't intend to leave my friends and my affection for Japan simply because I'm on the other side of the Pacific. I'm a dedicated, fervent, patriotic American, and I have no hesitation in saying these things, because the welfare of Japan and the United States are so intertwined, that I think it's essential that we consider it on that basis.

So, my friends, thank you very much for the signal award that you've made here. I will count it a great treasure. I will take it home with me and always remember the honor that you've given me.

And now, my friends, it's time to go. Thank you very much.